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Pro Vobis et Pro Multis Effundetur
("For you and for the many is poured out")

by Father Max Zerwick, S.J.

In the May,1970 issue of Notitiae, the official periodical of the Congregation for Worship, the following article was published, in order to defend the appropriateness of the several vernacular translations of pro multis that had been approved by bishops’ conferences. The earlier reply of the Congregation was being contested at the time; see above, “What about pro multis?” by the Congregation for Worship. The English text that follows is our own, a translation of the original in Latin.

In vernacular translations of the words of consecration of the wine, pro omnnibus (“for all”) was usedpro multis - für viele B-elev-x instead of pro multis (“for the many”). For some people, this was a problem. A response was already given in Notitiae (January, 1970), pp. 39-40. Since, however, some uneasiness seems to persist, perhaps the topic needs to be revisited a little more extensively, from an exegetical perspective.

In the response mentioned, it is said, “According to biblical exegetes, the Aramaic word (translated into Latin as pro multis) means pro omnibus, “for all.” That statement should be expressed a little more cautiously. In the Hebrew (Aramaic) language, to be exact, there is one word for omnes (“all”) and another word for multi (“many”). Strictly speaking, then, the word multi does not mean omnes.

However, in different ways, the word multi in our Western languages does not exclude the whole. This is why that word can and in fact does connote the whole, where the context or subject matter suggests it or requires it. It is not easy to offer examples of this phenomenon. Here, however, are a few examples:

  • In 3 Ezra 8:3, we read: “Many indeed have been created, but few shall be saved. It is clear that “all” have been created. But here the interest is not in the whole but in the opposite of “few.” Hence, “many” is used, when that word really means “all.”

  • In Qumram text Hodayot IV, 28, 29, both words (“many” and “all”) are found in synonymous parallel, two parallel verses in which the same thing is said twice: “You have worked wonders among the many on account of your glory that you might make known to all your great works.”

  • Moreover, in Qumram “many” (with or without the article) came to be a technical term, almost a name, for the community of all the full-fledged members. So, just in the “rule” of the sect, the word occurs in about thirty instances.

  • We come, now to the texts of the New Testament with which we are especially concerned: Romans 5:12, 15. Here, the comparative argumentation from the minor premise to the major is set up, between the universality of Adam’s sin and the universality of the grace of Christ:

“Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world and through sin, death, and thus death thus came to all in as much as all sinned...(After the insertion of vss. 13 and 14, the comparison continues.) But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by that transgression the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one person, Jesus Christ, overflow for the many.”
Let us take note that “all” those of the first part of this citation becomes “the many” (with the article) in the second part. Just as sin affects all, (or rather much more), so also grace is destined for all.
  • In Mark 10:45 (Matthew 20:28), Jesus says, “the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many.” Ambiguous in itself, that “for many” is in fact to be understood as “for all.” This is clear from 1 Timothy 2:6: “Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.”

    However, even if we didn’t have that authoritative interpretation in 1 Timothy, the expression “for many” nonetheless should certainly be understood as “for all.” This is so because the coming of Jesus (“He came in order to give . . . “) is explicitly carried out for the purpose which can abundantly be shown to have as its object the whole world, that is, the human race as a whole.

  • John 1:29: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin (singular!) of the world!”

  • John 3:16,17: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him . . . might have eternal life. Indeed, God sent his Son into the world in order that the world might be saved through him.”

  • 1 John 2:2: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and not for ours only but also for (the sins) of the whole world.”

  • 1 John 4:14: “We have seen and testify because the Father has sent his Son as the Savior o.f the world.”

  • 1 Timothy 4:10: “. . .We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of the faithful.” The following texts, however, have the Eucharist in mind:

  • John 6:33: “The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

  • John 6:51: “The bread that I will give for the life of. the world is my flesh.” Given all this data, one can rightly ask, not so much what the words pro multis in the consecration mean, but rather (given all this evidence)why pro omnibus is not explicitly said. Here is the answer to that question:

    1) In the primitive Palestinian Church, considering both their soteriology and their Semitic mind-set, there was no misunderstanding what so ever that had to be avoided by using pro omnibus. People could readily keep the traditional pro multis because those Christians understood the beauty of that original wording; they cherished the beauty of that phrase, “for the many.”

    2) Pro multis seems to have been used by Jesus himself. This is so because calling to mind the Suffering Servant who sacrifices himself, as in Isaiah, it is suggested that Jesus himself would fulfill what was foretold about that Servant of the Lord.

    The principal text in question here is Isaiah 53:llb-l2:
Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear. Therefore, I will give him his portion among the great; and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty, because he surrendered himself to death. . . And he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.

Therefore the formula pro multis instead of pro omnibus in our texts (Mark l0:45=Matthew 20:28; Mark 14:24; Matthew 26:28) seems to be due to the intended allusion to the Suffering Servant whose work Jesus carried out by his death.

Now, this brings us to another question. As a result of these facts, why in our liturgical translations is the venerable pro multis replaced by pro omnibus? Here is my answer. This is appropriate because of an inconvenient fact, accidental but true. The phrase “for many” (it is said) in our minds today is understood without reflection to exclude the universality of Christ’s redemptive work. The Semitic mind of the Bible could see that universality connoted in the phrase “for many.” In fact that connotation was certainly there, because of the theological context. However eloquent it was for ancient peoples, today that allusion to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah is clear only to experts.

One could also object to the phrase "for all" by saying that for some people the phrase might suggest that all actually will be saved. But that misunderstanding hardly exists amoung Catholics, it seems.

Furthermore, this is neither the first nor the only time that the words of the conscration have changed. The traditional Latin text already combines the pro vobis ("for you") from the Gospel of Luke with the pro multis phrase of Mark and Matthew. And that is not the first alteration of the text, to be sure.

The liturgy of the early Church (as in Mark and Mattew) seems to have adjusted the words over the chalice, to conform to the words said over the bread. According to Paul and Luke (1 Corinthians: 11:25; Luke; 22:20) the original words said over the chalice were. "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood." That is a wording that perhaps in depth of meaning was excellent; it is not, however, excellent in clarity.

It is clear that the Church of the apostles was not interested in preserving the words of Christ themselves, even in the words of the consecration, even when those words are quoted in the Gospel and attributed to Christ himself.

(The author of this article, Father Max Zerwick, S.J., is a respected scholar. He wrote the classic Philological Analysis of the Greek New Testament. To the present day, that reference work remains an unsurpassed authority on the Greek of the New Testament.)


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